This is the time of year for figs, those strangely luscious and fleshy fruits. We have plucked these figs from our own tree – alas, we have only one. They are unusual in that they are not the small purple variety. Rather, they remain green with pinkish tinges when ripe and are much larger than the purple ones.
I didn’t discover figs until I moved to France. I suppose we must have tasted them before. But there is nothing to compete with a freshly picked, ripe fig. They are odd fruits, almost meaty in texture, and strangely addictive while also being peculiarly alien. They need sun to ripen but also water to plump them up, so we have our tree connected to a trickle irrigation system.
Figs were probably one of the first plants cultivated by humans, possibly as far back as 9000 BC, thus predating cereal crops. The fruit we pick from the trees is actually a casing which contains both the flower and the seeds. Some varieties require pollination by the fig wasp: if you look at a fig you will see a small hole at the base of the fruit that allows the wasp to enter. Other varieties manage it on their own – parthenogenesis, I believe this is called. Fig trees usually crop twice – once in the spring and more abundantly in late summer.
The hedgerows around here are laden with fruit in late summer, including figs, quinces and late plums. This year particularly is a fruit year. We have to inspect our fig tree every day. Animals and birds are already nibbling at the lower hanging fruit and ants enter the opening at the base and gorge on the sweet flesh inside.
Figs are delicious halved or quartered in a salad with goat’s cheese and country ham (author Deborah Lawrenson has a great recipe here). Drizzle a little honey onto the figs and you have a meal fit for the gods.
I have two lovely recipes for figs. The first is for fig and walnut jam. In Corsica, my ideal second home, they eat fig chutney without the walnuts with their pungent goat and sheep’s cheese. It goes wonderfully well with cheese and we have adopted the habit whenever we can get hold of the jam. To my shame, I am not a jam maker, but I am indebted to our friend Jenny for providing her excellent recipe for fig and walnut conserve.
Fig and walnut conserve
1 kilogram fresh green figs, not quite ripe
2 large lemons
750 g sugar
2 good handfuls shelled walnuts cut in pieces
Wash figs and cut in half. Rinse lemons and remove zest, cutting into fine strips. Remove all the white pith from the lemons and slice them thinly. Remove all seeds and place seeds in a small cheesecloth bag.
In a large heavy saucepan, mix sugar with 50 ml water. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil syrup until it reaches 105°C – you’ll need a jam thermometer. Add figs, lemon zest, lemon slices and seed bag. Bring to boil and cook on low heat until setting point – around 2 hours. To determine setting point, drip a few drops of liquid onto a cold saucer and if it sets quickly, it’s ready. Remove seed bag. Add walnut pieces and cook another 5 minutes.
Seal jam in sterilised jars.
The second recipe is for fig clafoutis. Clafoutis is more commonly made with cherries and consists of a batter poured on top of the fruit and baked in the oven. The recipe is the same for figs. Like cherries, they achieve a kind of jammy consistency when baked like this. If figs are no longer available you can make this with plums or any stone fruit. This recipe comes from HyperU supermarket’s monthly magazine.
Fig clafoutis with almonds
10 ripe figs
100g brown sugar
Few drops vanilla essence
4 whole eggs
100g powdered almonds
50cl crème liquide
60g maize flour
50g flaked almonds
Preheat oven to 180°C. Melt butter in a saucepan till it becomes foamy then remove from heat and set aside. Using a pastry brush spread a little melted butter on the base and sides of an oven dish and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cut figs in quarters and place in dish.
In a food processor, mix eggs, brown sugar, vanilla essence, powdered almonds, cream, melted butter and maize flour until well combined (about 2 minutes). Pour the batter over the figs and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Then lower temperature to 160°C, sprinkle clafoutis with flaked almonds and cook for a further 15-20 minutes. Insert the point of a knife – if it comes out clear, it’s done.
Serve warm or cold with pouring cream.
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